Winners of back-to-back-to-back Big Ten titles, the Wisconsin Badgers found themselves ranked No. 23 on the USA Today college football preseason poll released on Aug. 1. Here's another tidbit of information regarding the Badgers—they finished 8-6 last season.
That's why there are two ways to look at Wisconsin's preseason positioning. Coming off of a conference championship as a BCS school, this would seem to automatically qualify the Badgers for a spot in the Top 25. On the other hand, the only reason they were able to play in the B1G Championship Game is because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play.
Oh—and did we mention their final record was 8-6?
In fairness, that record is about as deceiving as they come. The Badgers didn't lose a single game by more than seven points in 2012, and they also dropped three games in overtime in large part because of the inability to move the football.
Another interesting bit of information is that Wisconsin has a new head honcho in Gary Andersen and several new faces on the coaching staff. It's only the second head-coaching change the Badgers have endured in the past two decades, and it's the first instance in that same time frame that the head coach has come from outside of the university.
That means change is in the air, especially on defense, where the Badgers plan to be more aggressive after making the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation.
On offense, Andersen wants to have a more mobile quarterback. The possibility of seeing some read-option has captured the attention of Badger fans, but Andersen would still like to pound the rock, which has been Wisconsin's bread and butter for a long time, and have a quarterback who can throw the football above all else.
In other words, all this change makes it hard to gauge just how good the Badgers will be in 2013.
One constant, however, is the starters from a season ago who will return to try and lead Wisconsin to yet another Rose Bowl.
There will only be two positions on offense—left guard and center—that return a player without starting experience, possibly three if junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy is able to wrestle the quarterback job away from Joel Stave and Curt Phillips.
On defense, the front seven is loaded with experience. But some players will be shifting positions, and the secondary only features one returning starter. Those concerns, along with question marks in the passing game, are reasons to wonder just how successful Wisconsin can be in Andersen's first year.
Of course, a lot of that success will be predicated on how well the Badgers move the ball on the ground with James White and Melvin Gordon, as well as who wins the quarterback competition during fall camp.
The schedule is very manageable as a whole, but the Badgers need to avoid the slip-ups of last season if they want to reach another B1G title game with Ohio State now postseason-eligible. A Week 5 matchup at The Horseshoe happens to be the biggest roadblock by far to accomplishing such a feat.
The Buckeyes (No. 2), Michigan (No. 17), Nebraska (No. 18) and Northwestern (No. 22) are the B1G teams ranked ahead of Wisconsin in the USA Today preseason poll. The Badgers annihilated the Cornhuskers in last year's title game and put up a 70-spot three years ago against the Wildcats.
A Big Ten title, an 8-6 record and a revamped coaching staff are difficult to average out, but all things considered, the Badgers are fortunate to crack the preseason Top 25, and a No. 23 ranking feels about right as Wisconsin gears up for the 2013 season.
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